GET THE EDGE
Coaching to Clarity
by Luda Kopeikina
Just as the quality and clarity of our decisions shape our lives, leadership decisions mold business success. Major strategic decisions carry tremendous business consequences. When your client is wrestling with making just such a decision, helping him or her reach clarity can present a significant executive coaching challenge.
Good decisions hinge on mental clarity, which is the product of mental concentration, focused thoughts and attentive awareness. Clarity is reached by training the mind to be precise and accurate in its definitions, assumptions and evaluations. The following strategies will help your clients with the challenges associated with effective decision making.
Foster the Clarity State
Working with dozens of CEOs of various-sized companies in different industries convinced me that the key to reaching clarity in the decision-making process is the ability to focus physical, mental and emotional resources on an issue with laser-beam intensity. The best leaders attain such focus quickly and easily. It is a skill, and it can be learned. Once learned, it can be leveraged. I call this state of mind a Clarity State. It is a balanced state in which an individual is:
Emotionally positive, happy, and free of fear and anxiety;
Charged with power, self-confidence, and energy;
Totally in the present; and
Mentally focused on the task at hand.
Studies show that entering this Clarity State several times a day dramatically impacts our performance. For example, a study conducted by The Institute of HeartMath (2000) reported that after practicing the Clarity State three times a day for three months, test scores for a group of high school students improved by 75%. By entering the Clarity State, 93% of the CEOs in my sample of 115 were able to reach clear decisions regarding issues which had been pending for weeks or months.
Within five to ten minutes, such simple methods as deep breathing, mind focusing, and visualization of happy past events can produce this Clarity State. It can be measured by the individual's level of physical, mental and emotional coherence, based on data obtained from a simple measuring device, such as a pulse rate sensor. Off-the-shelf software that measures coherence ratios is available to help your clients discover their Clarity State and their most effective methods of attaining it. This powerful state helps to eliminate indecision and elicit better choices.
Build a Decision Map
Attaining the Clarity State will not, of itself, ensure a clear decision. The decision-maker must also correctly frame the decision—define the objective, constraints and options, and align the decision with desirable outcomes. This can be a difficult task, even for the best leaders, due to the tendency to get so wrapped up in the problem that the brain gets 'stuck' and can't move forward. This occurs when the parameters surrounding the decision are fuzzy.
A one-page graphical 'decision map' that clarifies the objective, spells out concerns, and describes available options and other critical parameters can create a surprising level of clarity in identifying the right choice. While this process takes only a couple of minutes, it can speed your client to clarity.
Encourage Perspective Shifts
Upbringing, education and life experiences render each person unique. As a result, every individual views a particular decision from a different perspective. This personal 'frame' focuses on certain decision parameters and diminishes the rest. Any frame may limit options and inhibit the development of a good solution. Therefore, the ability to shift perspectives is vital to effective decision making. Unfortunately, humans rarely reframe voluntarily. Reframing requires a focused effort. In addition, identifying framing factors is difficult, so skilled coaching assistance in this area can be invaluable.
What determines framing factors for your client? There are two sources: The way the problem is presented (the motivations of those involved), and your client's own biases, based on his or her personal history.
Unrecognized assumptions tend to frame as well. For example, one company's leader rejected the opportunity to enter a particular market because his team considered the market a 'niche.' With a competitor's subsequent success in this niche, the executive realized that he had based his decision on an erroneous assumption regarding the actual size and profitability of a niche market (i.e., that 'niche' equated to 'too small for a serious business venture').
Armed with specific techniques for identifying framing factors, a skilled coach can ask probing questions to expose underlying biases and unrecognized assumptions. Listing assumptions, defining the motivations of those involved in the problem, and identifying expectations can facilitate the client's shift to clarity.
Reach for Internal Alignment
A conventionalist judges a decision by its consequences. Leaders are paid to select strategies that increase value to shareholders, increase sales and improve effectiveness. Business decisions are usually made with these major objectives in mind. However, effective leaders judge decisions by different criteria.
No one can fully foresee the consequences of a decision at the moment he or she is making it. Market shifts or other environmental factors can interfere and negatively affect the results. Therefore, effective leaders define how right a decision is by the degree to which it is aligned with their vision. In order to reach clarity, they focus on the three components over which they have control: The quality of the decision-making process, the quality of data involved in the decision, and the level of internal alignment with the choice.
While this does not guarantee good consequences, it does guarantee that the decision maker will do whatever is in his or her power to deliver the intended result. This internal alignment with the choice—the clarity, excitement, and certainty that the decision is the right one—cannot be faked, and effective leaders know that they cannot lead without it. Without internal alignment, it's difficult to clearly communicate the intent behind the decision and engage a team in its implementation. Coaches can play a crucial role in providing feedback, encouraging the leader to persist until that deep alignment point is reached.
Business executives are paid for the quality and clarity of their decision making. Those who are able to make clear choices excel, and their value in the marketplace increases. Managers are rarely innately skilled in this area. For most executives, this is a continuous process of improvement that is crucial to overall business success. The most powerful recipe for improvement is the combination of the four strategies described above. Using these powerful tools, an executive coach can help clients make clear decisions in moments of crisis and excel at the decision-making process over the long term.
McCraty, Rollin, et al. 2000. "Improving Test-Taking Skills & Academic Performance in High School Students Using HartMath Learning Enhancement Tools." HeartMath Research Center, Institute of HeartMath, Publication No. 00-010. Available at http://www.heartmath.org/research/research-papers/improving-test-taking.html.
Luda Kopeikina is CEO of Noventra Corporation, an innovation commercialization firm. She is the author of The Right Decision Every Time: How to Reach Perfect Clarity on Tough Decisions (Prentice Hall, 2005). For more information about Luda, visit www.ludakopeikina.com. Luda can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.